The first new album in six years from LA rockers Rooney, Washed Away, is a sunshine-noir cocktail of fizzing new wave guitars and dreamy West Coast harmonies. Rooney are essentially a one-man-band vehicle for Robert Schwartzman, a composer, filmmaker and occasional actor with starry Hollywood connections: his mother is actor Talia Shire, his elder brother indie movie star Jason Schwartzman, and his uncle legendary director Francis Ford Coppola. But the 33-year-old wants his music to stand or fall on its own merits.
Why reactivate Rooney now after six years working on other projects?
Rooney was the first band I ever had. It took many years of my life to build. So after having some time away I just wanted to get back out on tour and make a new record. To me Rooney is its own living, breathing thing. It’s like stepping into a machine, or into a suit. There is a Rooney sound, and I think people identify with it.
Washed Away is full of sunny melodies but heartbroken lyrics. Are you a naturally melancholy person?
A lot of my songs have to do with the sad part of love. I guess I find the feeling of longing more interesting than the feeling of celebrating. I don’t know why, but when I pick up a guitar or sit at the piano I just slip right into that state of mind.
There are echoes of Weezer and The Strokes on Washed Away, both bands Rooney have toured with in the past.
I love those bands. Touring with them was a great experience and they’ve become friends. You gravitate towards bands that sound like music you like, and I just love great songs. Some bands are about sound, some are about songs. I’ve always loved greatest hits albums because I’ve always wanted to hear the best songs.
While recording Washed Away you also directed your first feature film, Dreamland. A positive experience?
It was awesome. I grew up around people making movies, working on movie sets, so naturally it was something I craved as a kid. I went away to Oxford and did a film programme there and loved it. It was right after Oxford that I started Rooney. Movies and songs are similar, you’re telling a story, just in a shorter time.
Your brother Jason co-stars in Dreamland, but he is also a musician and do you ever feel in competition with him?
Competition can be many things, it’s not so black-and-white. Competition can be a motivator, it can be rocket fuel. Think about The Beatles and The Beach Boys, the back and forth between them. Not a lot of people know my brother had a band, Phantom Planet, before he really focused on acting, so as a younger brother I felt having a band was the coolest thing.
Has belonging to a famous Hollywood dynasty been a blessing or a burden on your career?
It’s both. Say I want to work with an actor, they might feel comfortable that I have a lineage of family members who are filmmakers. On the other hand, somebody might judge something before they’ve given it a chance, because of the association. I would never overlook that I have a family of filmmakers who are all really talented people, but I don’t lean on that. I try to learn, I want to make my own mistakes.
Washed Away is out on July 29 via Superball Music.